White-bellied Sea Eagle

Haliaeteus leucogaster

White-bellied Sea Eagle Photo: Jeff Groves

The White-bellied Sea Eagle is a worthy member of the genus Haliaeteus, which includes some of the most iconic of birds, including the American Bald Eagle, the African Fish-Eagle and the giant Stellar’s Sea-eagle. White-bellied Sea Eagles are found all along the coast of Australia and on inland waters in northern, eastern and southern Australia. In South Australia, their populations are in a parlous state with the species classified as ‘Endangered’.

Sea Eagles feed on a wide variety of vertebrate prey, particularly fish but including rabbits, wallabies, fruit-bats, reptiles and carrion. They forage by quartering, high soaring or still hunting from a perch. Attacks are by a shallow glide or dive. Prey is snatched from the surface of the land or water. They may also steal prey from other predators.

Sea Eagles breed from June to September in South Australia, with earlier breeding taking place in the north and later breeding in the south. The nest is a platform of sticks, lined with seaweed, leaves or grass, variously placed in the fork of a tree, on the ground, or on a cliff face.



A very large eagle with a wingspan in the female reaching 2.2 metres. The female weighs up to 40% more than the male, otherwise the sexes are alike. The head, neck, underparts and all but base of the tail are snowy white, with the back, upperwings and base of the tail being grey. The underwings are distinctive. The leading edge is white to off-white, with the trailing edge (primaries, secondaries and major coverts) being black. The cere is pale grey, the eyes brown, and the legs and feet, cream. Juveniles are brown generally, with pale feather tips. The tail is white, shading to light brown. The underwings are dark brown with a whitish ‘window’ across the bases of the primaries.

Where to find it

White-bellied Sea Eagles nest along the coasts of Kangaroo Island, Yorke Peninsula, and the Eyre Peninsula as far as the Nullabor. A single pair nests on the cliff face of the south-eastern Fleurieu Peninsula, and another along the River Murray near Renmark. They may be seen hunting over the breeding areas as well as along the Coorong near the Murray Mouth, and over the Gulf St. Vincent coast as far as the old salt fields north of Adelaide. They are very sensitive to disturbance when nesting, particularly when using cliff nests and approaches from above. A major focus of conservation efforts is to keep people away from nest sites durong the breeding season.

Only the nominate race, H.l. leucogaster, is found in Australia.